In the next five years, Illinois plans to open at least 48 new charter schools — half in Chicago — according to a grant application that won the state $42.3 million in federal dollars to expand charters and share best practices. The state expects to concentrate growth in “high-need” areas where “our most disadvantaged students” live — namely districts with low-performing schools such as Chicago, Cicero, East St. Louis and Peoria.
Depending on who applies and how the money is distributed, as many as 60 new charter schools could open, says Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. He expects about two-thirds of applications will come from operators that already run schools.
The state plans to release a request for proposals in January. The Illinois State Board of Education says initial planning grants of up to $25,000 will be available to help charter developers get off the ground. Design grants are expected to range up to $150,00 for a year and implementation grants up to $800,000 over two years.
Broy says the funding will “help those with great ideas but limited resources,” such as groups that want to start a single campus but haven’t gone through the process before. He expects relatively slow growth in the suburbs — “It’s not like you can just manufacture a great application,” he says, adding that some of Chicago’s established operators might look to expand outside the city.
Broy notes that a 2011 change to charter law made Illinois’ application stand out to the federal government. It created the Illinois State Charter School Commission, which can override districts that turn down charter proposals, and added some accountability measures. In its proposal, ISBE says that although the commission has granted only three appeals so far, “these numbers are expected to significantly increase” as charter applications get better.
Separately, LEARN Charter School Network and Noble Network of Charter Schools each won sizable federal grants to replicate and expand their schools: $6.5 million for LEARN over five years and $8.4 million for Noble.
LEARN is proposing to open eight new K-8 charter schools and to expand an existing campus by two grades, serving “an additional 3,520 students in predominantly low-income, minority communities in the Chicago area.” Noble plans to use its money to support two growing campuses and to create eight new ones, serving up to 5,000 new students. A proposal from Noble to open a high school in the city’s Southwest Side has drawn intense criticism from community groups in that area.
The federal money comes at a time when elected officials are questioning the growth of charters in Chicago. Recently, 42 alderman signed a resolution to halt charter growth for a year — though it was later blocked by the head of the council’’s Education Committee.
Here is how ISBE sees the distribution of new charters:
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2. Promoting college access … Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and City Colleges Chancellor Cheryl Hyman announced that six more universities have agreed to help Star Scholars complete their four-year degrees. The Star Scholars program, unveiled last winter, gives high-achieving CPS grads free tuition at City Colleges. Earlier this summer the University of Illinois at Chicago agreed to accept at least 250 scholars who successfully complete their studies at City Colleges and offer them $5,000 in scholarships to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
Now DePaul University, Governors State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University Chicago, National Louis University and Roosevelt University also have signed on to the program and are developing their own incentives.
The expansion was announced at City Club of Chicago luncheon, where the mayor said: “If you maintain a B average at community college for your next two years, you also will be financially successful, in the sense that your parents won’t have to take a second job or second mortgage to give you a shot at the American Dream here in Chicago.”
More than 900 CPS graduates accepted Star scholarships and are currently attending City Colleges. Catalyst wrote about some of the drawbacks for high-achieving students who choose to attend City Colleges in our winter issue.
3. CTU leadership … A year after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told NBC 5 she has made a near-full recovery and that she’ll be finished with chemotherapy by December. As a result, she says, she will run for a third term as CTU president in next May’s elections. Members of the House of Delegates who saw her at Wednesday’s meeting said she had a commanding presence and sounded stronger than she has in months.
At least one member of the cabinet who’s served with Lewis since 2010, financial secretary Kristine Mayle, says she won’t seek re-election. So far neither Vice President Jesse Sharkey nor Recording Secretary Michael Brunson has spoken about their plans. CORE, the caucus that now runs the union, has asked members to apply by Sunday for the top officer positions. CORE will go through its own internal process this fall for choosing a slate.
There have been some rumblings of dissatisfaction with the leadership over the past year. In particular, some members were upset at the leadership’s abrupt decision to endorse Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in the city’s mayoral election after the cancer diagnosis derailed Lewis’ own plans to run. And more recently there’s been criticism about whether CTU leaders have been too quick to accept the city’s claims of fiscal crisis, as an article this week in Substance News points out.
The next few months will be tough for the union. Members have been working without a contract since the end of June, there were several hundred layoffs over the summer, and district officials have broached the possibility of as many as 5,000 more layoffs this fall if they’re unable to get pension relief from Springfield. A labor strike could take place this winter. Lewis told the Sun-Times she hopes a contract is in place before union elections are held.
4. Roosevelt student walkout … About 150 students at Roosevelt High School took to the sidewalks earlier this week to protest budget cuts and teacher layoffs. Students who participated in Monday’s walkout chanted “Save our teachers” and waved colorful signs, including one that said: “We didn’t cut class. You cut our teacher.”
The two-hour, student-led protest rounded the Roosevelt campus before briefly moving to Von Steuben High School. When the group returned, walkers were joined by about 30 students from Foreman and Schurz high schools. The cuts are a result of declining enrollment across CPS — in addition to declining resources — and Roosevelt, Schurz and Foreman were among the hardest hit.
Enrollment at Roosevelt has fallen by 183 students since last year, leading to the loss of 16 positions and $1.4 million. “It’s not appropriate for them to do that, and we need to learn,” freshman Deangelo Walters said about cutting teachers.
Roosevelt junior Xavier Eason said several teachers from whom he sought advice after school or during his lunch period have lost their jobs. On top of that, courses are getting restructured, which means he has to adjust to a new classroom, schedule and teacher.
Social studies teacher Tim Meegan says cutting a high school’s budget after the year has started has “a huge ripple effect… If you take 50 classes out, then you have to reprogram almost every child in this building and almost every teacher.”
5. New school ratings … Illinois schools and districts eventually will be rated on a 100-point scale, the Chicago Tribune reports. Just 30 percent of that score will focus on student achievement and academic progress — including performance on the controversial PARCC test and graduation rates — with a much larger percentage based on “professional practices.” These will include family involvement and whether classrooms are equipped with learning materials that help improve schools.
Experts say it’s unusual for states to place such little emphasis on tests in developing rating systems, although anti-testing groups called Illinois’ decision “a step in the right direction.” A district administrator from a western suburb who helped develop the new scoring system told the Tribune that the group chose 30 percent for student achievement “because that’s similar to the way educators are rated under a 2010 teacher evaluation law.”
A statewide group of education organizations called Vision 20/20 drafted the legislation that created the rating system, and Gov. Bruce Rauner signed it into law over the summer. The system will be only partially implemented this year. The “professional practices” portion will start being phased in next school year, and all districts will be scored on both components by 2022. The guidelines may still need final approval from the federal government.
One important last note … In case you missed it, last week CPS officials had to make an embarrassing correction to the district’s formula for calculating graduation rates, which have been inflated for the past four years. The move comes months after an investigation by the Better Government Association’s Sarah Karp and WBEZ’s Becky Vevea found that thousands of students were being counted as transfers when they should have been counted as dropouts. The district has not yet released corrected graduation rates at the school level.
Kudos to both reporters for uncovering this troubling trend — and also to the CPS Office of Accountability for finally making the correction when district officials initially said they wouldn’t.